Surprising 3-1 Steelers get ready to welcome Big Ben back

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The Steelers weren’t able to go undefeated during the absence of Ben Roethlisberger, losing to the Baltimore Ravens 17-14, but they are going into their bye week with a sparkling 3-1 record, one of the biggest surprises of the season.

Now they must get Big Ben prepared for the remaining 12 games. Roethlisberger will have two weeks of practice to get his game together in preparation for his first game of the season against the 1-3 Cleveland Browns who upset the Cincinnati Bengals last week, 23-20. Even though they’ve lost three games, the once lowly Browns have played everyone tough and may be ready to finally be a force in the AFC.

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C’MON REF—Steeler head coach Mike Tomlin pleads with the officials after a call went against the Steelers Oct 3 at Heinz Field. (Photo by William McBride)

The Steelers and the Ravens demonstrated why they are the best defensive teams in the NFL, as they held both offenses in check—on the ground and through the air. For some reason, despite surprising Tampa Bay by throwing the ball early to jump off to a big lead, the Steelers chose to try to run against the second best defense in the league against the run. After running the first two downs, on third down the defense knew they had to throw and were ready for it. But despite a lack of imagination by offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, if Jeff Reed doesn’t miss two field goals, the Steelers win 20-17.

Ravens QB Joe Flacco withstood the Steelers goal line stand and go-ahead touchdown in the closing minutes to throw an 18-yard scoring pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh with 32 seconds remaining, and the Ravens made certain their rivals wouldn’t go unbeaten without Roethlisberger.

The Steelers took a 14-10 lead on Rashard Mendenhall’s 7-yard TD run midway through the fourth quarter and appeared ready to win after turning away the Ravens on third and fourth down plays from the 2 with over two minutes remaining. But a holding call on a punt gave Baltimore (3-1) the ball at Pittsburgh’s 40 with 55 seconds remaining, and Flacco found Anquan Boldin on two passes for 12 yards and Houshmandzadeh for 10 to set up the winning score.

Charlie Batch only put the ball in the air 21 times completing 12 for a modest 141 yards. Mendenhall was also held in check, picking up 79 yards on 25 carries with two touchdowns. Willis McGahee and Ray Rice were held to 59 yards on 22 carries combined for the Ravens. Flacco had good stats, 24 of 37 for 256 yards and a touchdown, but was mostly held in check in the red zone.

Peyton Hillis rushed for 102 yards and one touchdown, Phil Dawson kicked three field goals and the Browns finally held on to a fourth quarter lead, surviving a big day by Terrell Owens for their first victory of the season, 23-20 over the Bengals.

The Browns (1-3) lost their first three games by a total of 12 points, failing to finish down the stretch. But this time, they overcame a costly penalty, made a crucial sack of Carson Palmer in the closing minutes and withstood a 10-catch, 220-yard performance by Owens, who also moved into second place on the NFL’s career list in receiving yards. Quarterback Seneca Wallace had one of his better games, going 18 of 30 for 184 yards. Receivers Benjamin Watson and Chansi Stuckey had solid games with a combined 11 catches for 136 yards, providing them with a well balanced attack.

The Bengals (2-2) had their eight-game winning streak against AFC North opponents snapped. With the Bengals loss to the Browns, the Ravens and Steelers share the lead in the division with 3-1 records. The Browns face the red hot Atlanta Falcons in Cleveland this week before meeting the Steelers.

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